Tuesday 30 March 2010

Delaying the inevitable...

Oh dear! Here's another example of how the BBC are being held back so that the Internet revolution doesn't kill off lower quality information providers quite as quickly. But it will eventually and the public will have simply been denied a quality offering unnecessarily. The BBC should be allowed to provide whatever Apps they want for iPhone or any other significant platform so that users can decide what to use to access the information. It will be a shame if people are denied the opportunity to follow content from the World Cup soccer tournament in June from the BBC on their phones, while Sky and others who are part of the old guard newspaper/publishing industry face no such restrictions.

And apps are important, because they make the experience simple. And that is important. iPhone owners check the weather using the Weather widget on their phones, rather than going to the BBC site on the web using Safari on the iPhone - hence they get the Yahoo weather view rather than the provider who has a public information role in the UK. The apps that the BBC were planning to launch were simply making their existing content (news, weather, sport) available via the most successful smartphone platform, not straying into new areas of content.

Organisations would do better to work out how to innovate and be the best in the new media world, instead of trying dirty tactics to unfairly regulate and campaign against those who have already embraced the technology, and therefore skewing the market. They will fail, albeit slightly later than they might have done! It's almost as futile as the world's remaining dictatorships who still think that they can survive in an open, free and Internet connected world. They may take longer to die by holding out, but die they will.

Monday 29 March 2010

Design innovation vs Standards

One of the obvious aspects of Apple innovation, which I have tended not to blog much about in the past, is the Design work that applies to their products, led by Jonathan Ive. The attention to detail is not just applied to the products themselves, such as computers, iPods and mobile phones, but also to the accessories that ship with those products such as power adaptors. Compare below the Apple power adaptor for iPhone which is built into a UK 13A mains plug (left) with a normal but fatter and bigger ordinary mains plug (right)!

Last year I recall a campaign followed by a fanfare announcement that mobile phone manufacturers had finally agreed a new standard power adaptor that would be interchangeable for many models and makes, instead of requiring a different one for each. This seemed a bit odd to me, given that most people only have one phone and therefore still only need one charger when they travel around. Taking into account the above Apple example, isn't it better to aim for a well designed pocketable adaptor which provides a standard USB power level output, rather than a new additional standard, which everyone again will implement in horrible ugly ways?

Thursday 25 March 2010

Organisations setting expectation

Have just returned from a short vacation trip on the Orient Express, hence the relatively quiet period on this blog ... not much reasonably priced internet access on there! Back now and raring to put fingers to keyboard.

I often mention experience here in this blog, as a differentiator in customer service. And I put it much higher than technical specification for the success of gadgets. My recent trip on one of the most luxurious trains in the world has provided me with another example of a great customer experience, with parallels to the more familiar Apple examples. In the same way that delivery times for Apple products have often been bettered by actual delivery dates, the Orient Express organisation mirrored this by setting expectations of a very reasonable level of customer service and then still exceeding it. This is actually a very simple thing to think about and execute but it's amazing how many organisations just don't get it.

People love to believe that they are getting extras or something better than what is promised. Achieving this when your standards are already good is an example of how to make customers feel great about products and services.

Wednesday 17 March 2010

Polymer Chip Fabrication

As Moores Law continues to prevail, processor manufacturers are continuing to produce faster and faster chips, while basically using the same underlying fabrication science. I have covered before how new nano-science such as replacing copper connecting wires with carbon nanotubes on chips could bring further advantages. Researchers are also experimenting with other approaches not based on current lithography techniques. This would mean that instead of requiring a template like pattern to be used to etch silicon, so-called hitching posts can be established using sparse silicon, to which complex chains of molecules can attach themselves to. The chains are made of very precise copolymers which can form motifs acting as transistors for example. The process of manufacturing would then involve soaking plates in a liquid and letting polymerisation happen, rather than a lithographic process. The technique is still at an embryonic stage but I would expect simpler chips with very regular patterns such as memory chips would be possible first. The properties of the copolymers and the size of the plates would determine the capacity of such memory chips.

Friday 12 March 2010

Medicine or Modification?

Biotechnology is advancing at significant speed. There is plenty of scope for helping people who are blighted by disease or disability through new technology. New and better prosthetics are on the cards as are other means of helping people move, see, hear, or talk to others. However it will soon be a case of getting into the greyer area of whether we are fixing problems that people have or simply enhancing what people lack.

Society will need to make decisions which were previously unnecessary; decisions such as which body parts should be replaced and which should not. Does society want some people to have super-human power, while others do not. Brain implants will be possible. Will that change who a person is and what they can be held responsible for? When do we judge people to be human or simply a machine with some human characteristics? Personal enhancement may be much more than just cosmetic surgery in future. Some employers may want to enhance their employees to allow them to perform better. There will be a new way to categorise people as haves and have nots.

Wednesday 3 March 2010

A Journey to London & Back...

Yesterday, I travelled with fellow Futurologist Ian Pearson from Ipswich to London by car. It was a journey we could've expected to have completed in just over an hour and a half ... in practice it took at least 3 hours both ways. The time spent in traffic queues caused us to discuss a number of transport related issues...

Firstly we observed that like so many other people, we had chosen to make the trip by car, rather than take the train. Train services are still over-priced and risk unreliability and a lack of punctuality. This means that more people choose the individuality of the motor car and thus add to the congestion problem. It seems strange that in continental Europe, train services are much better and whilst most of our utility companies are now run by 'foreign' owners, our train services still are not.

Secondly the standard of driving, in terms of distance between vehicles, lane discipline, speed regulation, and late braking, was noticeably poor. Future vehicles that can take some of these decisions away from the human driver will improve average throughput of existing road bandwidth. The 'highlight' was at a major roundabout when one car travelling in the left lane decided to go right while simultaneously someone else in the right lane decided to go left. They were left with a complex negotiation to make about how to avoid collision while the rest of the traffic was forced to brake behind them.

Much of the congestion was caused by encountering sets of roadworks one after another after another. It is most frustrating to find some long segments of road coned off and speed limits imposed where no work was actually in progress. It would be better if many of these roadworks could be cleared during the peak rush hour periods when the impact on traffic flow is greatest.

It is still frustrating that road speed limits are still based on what a bureaucrat in a planning office decided would be best decades ago regardless of the road conditions, weather or traffic volumes. The case for flexible speed limits signed electronically in real time, designed for modern cars and taking into account the dynamics of the road as it changes, is stronger than ever.